Thursday, May 13, 2004


Finally getting around to reading Camille Paglia’s Sexual Personae. Okay—so I’m 14 or 15 years behind. You know how many books there are to read. I doubt I’ll read more than .09 percent of all the books every published in all my eternity of lifetimes. I’m falling behinder and behinder... aiyee!

Don’t I remember when I was so Apollonian as Paglia and sought to get everything explained in huge, overarching generalizations. Hey—I enjoy reading an intellectual’s book, but when every other line is a generalization, I know I’m reading bullshit, but, say, most of what all of us say is just that—all bullshit, all the time. We know this from the scientific evidence which has demonstrated that the left brain is a constant bullshitter, struggling to make a cohesive personal reality out of sensory data that has no meaning except in instinctive, evolutionary terms. So Camille’s left brain’s spinning is okay for her, if that’s how she wants to see the world, but I have my own take on things.

Let’s just take one of Paglia’s generalization and dissect it: “When prestige of state and religion is low, men are free, but they find freedom intolerable and seek new ways to enslave themselves, through drugs or depression.” p.3.

Camille’s referring, of course, to the now defunct hippy days, but for all her generalizations, I’ve got a few facts to share. I just happened to be teaching high school in the 60s as all this stuff started coming down, and the state and religion were the problems, but not in the way that Camille tries to show us.

I recall the first kids showing up at high school with the colorful clothing. I took special interest in those students and their friends. I felt kindred spirits alive in them. I was struggling with our government and with religion too. The colorful ones sometimes had to swallow physical abuse at the hands of the more conservative kids. Almost universally, those students were the products of unreal homes and conservative or fanatically religious parents who abused them verbally and physically. One girl came to school with bruise marks on her body from a father who beat her. Another young woman described her father coming home with a woman other than his wife and having sex with the strange woman while her mother was in the house. Two white girls I knew, tight with black revolutionaries, hid guns in the attics of their molesting father. Many of these students also lived spartan, self-denying lives, rejecting all the comforts of their middle class upbringing. Other students, with less home damage, were bright and curious, and their conservative culture had done little to explain the mysteries and allure of sex so they went out and experimented. Same with drugs.

If you're wondering why I didn't report some of the things I was hearing and seeing, you will understand how those times were before students had any personal rights. It was just the way life was for many of us. I came from an abusive home myself. The father who beat his daughter, in fact, tried to get me in trouble with the school because she'd always quote things I'd say in class against things he said at home. I only taught one year. That was enough for me. You couldn't win.

Paglia is misguided in assigning these students' depression and their use of sex and drugs to a fear of freedom. Quite the opposite, those symptoms were a direct result of living in dishonest households where freedom was not an option. Such repression and dishonesty would depress anyone. They knew there was a better way to live than the way they saw modeled in church, state and home, and they sought it out. If they were free with drugs and sex, it was an attempt to kill the pain of living in dishonest and repressive homes that modeled the dictates of repressive church and state.

As for myself, pardon me, Camille, but I feel pretty free, for a man who knows he’s a robot, directed largely by synapses and chemical reactions, from being manipulated by church and state, and I find freedom to be quite nice and invigorating too, if you don’t mind. I must assume that you don’t feel very free, and, if freedom depresses you and causes you to be an addict, speak for yourself but not for society as a whole, specially nor for me.

“No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else’s draft.” —H. G. Wells (1866-1946)

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